Review: SBS’ To The Beautiful You is Beautiful to Look At, but Lacks Depth

TYPE OF REVIEW : FIRST IMPRESSION
Mild spoilers up to Episode 3.

SBS’ To The Beautiful You is awash in color, a beautiful, vivid and colorful setting for this Korean take of the oft-adapted Japanese manga Hana Kimi.

But while it looks amazing visually, there is sadly a lack of depth in the overall story. And in the first 3 episodes, too much comes off as creepy and awkward, and not in a fun way.

To The Beautiful You centers on Goo Jae Hee who decides to transfer from the US to an all-boys school in Korea to, I guess, be closer to her idol, gold medal high jump star Kang Tae Joon. She’s a girl. So she cuts her hair and acts and dresses like a boy to be able to attend the same school as her idol. She still looks very much like a girl, but that’s not important.

Now, we first meet her silently and tearily watching Tae Joon’s gold medal winning performance. Then we quickly fast forward to her packing up and flying to Korea, arriving at school then awkwardly oogling Tae Joon and getting all up in his business.

Um… okay.

Maybe for those who’ve watched either the Taiwanese or Japanese adaptations or read the manga, all this seems normal. But for someone like me whose knowledge of the story extends only to “girl goes to all boys school, falls in love, gender jokes abound,” this all seems weird and creepy. Or maybe it’s just how To The Beautiful You is written. Jae Hee comes across as mild-mannered stalker rather than a rootable heroine.

It could have helped if we saw even just a few seconds of her saying “I’m going to pretend to be a boy to be closer to my idol-crush!” Instead we have a scene, after she’s found out by the school doctor, where she explains she merely wanted to stand together with her idol on the track. It appears the scene is supposed to play as some sort of poignant, emotional moment where we all can go “Aww, that’s sweet.”

In reality, it might have actually made things all the more awkward. Holding off on a big reveal like the reason she’s actually gone through all this trouble is perfectly fine. And while we get some inkling at the real reason she’s here, through three episodes, Jae Hee’s stalkerish ways (though not the most stalkerish behavior on the show, if you can believe that) would actually be a little less weird if she was some obsessed fan. But Jae Hee isn’t some crazy, obsessed fangirl. She sincerely wants to see Tae Joon jump again after he sustains an injury and she wants to be right there with him.

Okay. But does she have to be written as some sort of creeper? Putting on his shoes, taking off his socks, laying in his bed? Eek.

I’d rather see from the get go, or at least by the end of episode 2 that Jae Hee was paralyzed or something and watching Tae Joon gave her hope through her eventual and miraculous recovery. (Which I am expecting is the real reason… am I right? Do I win the prize?)

But there’s barely any setup, which means we’re basically plopped right into the middle of Genie High School and expect to know or care about everything that’s going on. But instead, we’ve only had a continuous stream of gay jokes, gender gags, and the inexplicable fact that no one’s even pointed out how Jae Hee looks nothing like a boy. Even if it is revealed later on that Tae Joon has known Jae Hee’s a girl from the beginning, it doesn’t make any of the scenes we’ve had so far any less awkward.

So with a lack of cohesiveness in the writing aspect, other than the pretty pictures (and people, mind you) we should at least depend on some good performances.

Well… so far, the material for SHINee’s Minho merely asks him to stand there and look pretty while being emotionless the times he isn’t giving Jae Hee a quizzical look. f(x)’s Sulli has much more to work with. You don’t believe for one minute she can pass off as a boy and the character really lives up to creeper status, but Sulli does alright considering.

As for chemistry, you don’t necessarily want to feel any chemistry between a girl who gets into a guy’s personal space all the time, but doesn’t have any malicious intentions and a guy whose reaction to this invasion of privacy is a blank stare.

Meanwhile, Lee Hyun Woo is cute, charming and incredibly likeable as the Eun Kyul, a role that is definitely a 180 from this most recent role in KBS’ Equator Man. Kang Ha Neul as Tae Joon’s rival Ji Chul would be great with a little more depth in his story and My One and Only‘s Suh Joon Young helps fill out the group of friends as house leader Seung Ri.

And ZE:A’s Kwanghee tries to be a scene stealer as his usual, over the top self. And strangely enough, his diva/mean girl-ish character is one of the few things that makes sense on the show.

Like really, who are all these people in the promotional posters (EXO-K) and what do they have to do with the show? And this being an SM Entertainment production, I should have expected the 360/matrix cameras to be in full use.

I haven’t watched a single cross-dressing drama yet (You’re Beautiful, Coffee Prince or any of the Hana Kimis) so I’m not really sure how any of this works. Are the guys going to realize they’re gay? Does the girl get found out pretty early on? What’s the endgame?

None of it makes sense! I don’t understand! Does Hana Kimi really require so much thinking!?

I guess that’s what I’ll keep watching for despite there being no immediate and/or strong connection with our main characters yet. To The Beautiful You is a prettily produced drama with plenty of eye candy in the form of both scenery and humans. But despite what should be a fun and breezy premise, the execution has lacked depth and dare I say coherence, instead showcasing creepy characters (there’s a molester!) and gender-bending jokes that fall flat.

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